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January 9, 2009

"Corrections costs must reflect fiscal realities; State must make bold reforms to system"

The title of this post is the title of this editorial from a local Michigan paper, although I imagine this title might be fitting for editorials in a large number of state papers.  Here are a few snippets:

With Michigan facing yet another budget crisis, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and lawmakers should finally adjust the Department of Corrections operational costs and policies to fit economic reality.  Recent measures taken to reduce costs, while helpful, fall short of the bold steps necessary to truly reform this very expensive system.

Michigan has more prisoners, incarcerates them longer and spends more to confine them than any other Great Lakes state.   The state faces an estimated $265 million budget deficit this fiscal year and a whopping $1.5 billion deficit next year....  

But as Michigan's corrections costs have escalated, numerous proposals to reduce them have been ignored. And calls for comprehensive reform have gone nowhere, too. This month the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments is expected to weigh in on steps toward more effective and affordable crime fighting. Certainly, some things already recommended will be cited.

Michigan has more prisoners, incarcerates them longer and spends more to confine them than any other Great Lakes state. Michigan has some 50,000 prisoners and spends an average of $34,000 per inmate, the bulk of which is tied to administrative costs. More than a third of all state employees -- more than 17,000 people -- work for the Corrections Department....

Like other states also facing cost pressures, Michigan needs to pursue less expensive but safe alternatives to imprisonment for some nonviolent offenders. In addition, the price tag for providing health care to inmates must be addressed among soaring administrative costs. The parole process, which has seen a decreasing number of prisoners paroled in the last few years, deserves attention along with re-examining sentencing guidelines.

State resources must be targeted to ensure that they are used in addressing the risks and needs of those who pose the greatest threat of re-offending.  A pilot project was funded last year that finally steers the mentally ill to treatment instead of prison.  Taxpayers need Granholm and legislators, who understand the issues involved in transforming the prison system, to show the political will to do what is necessary.  Only that will bring meaningful change and cost-savings, in corrections and elsewhere.

January 9, 2009 at 12:29 PM | Permalink

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